Cambridge, MA. A Lenten reflection: I am surely not the only one who thought it sad, ironic, horrific, to read this weekend about "mistreatment of cows at the meat-packing plant." Some line had been crossed, and the normal slaughter of cows had given way to their mistreatment, apparently as some animals were sick, and had to be dragged to their deaths. Of course, we are a meat-eating culture. For all kinds of social reasons, ideas about health, and even by way of appeal to the rights of God-fearing people after the Flood, people insist on eating meat. Perhaps our economic order would collapse if we all became vegetarians (should that ever happen). But all such reasons for refusing to leave animals alone ought not cover over the fact of what a terrible slaughter it really is, the killing of animals to satisfy our hungers -- and unnecessary too, since surely there are very few of us who actually need animal products to live healthy lives. Yet society more or less ignores, rationalizes, cannot face up to the slaughter of animals. This is not the only way we evade unpleasant facts; random acts of violence against humans young and old only rarely gain our full attention, while systemic violence, so deeply engrossed in the normal divisions of our world into rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, insiders and outsiders, etc., seems almost natural to the way we live. So why sit up and take notice at the abuse of animals at the slaughterhouse? I’ve been a vegetarian well over thirty years now, so perhaps it is not surprising that I take notice when scandal at the slaughterhouse-- so ordinary -- becomes news for a weekend; or perhaps it is something about cattle, gentle animals which do no harm, but suffer endlessly to satisfying our need for beef. But it is also true that our hope for decency lies in our ability to be shocked somewhere in our lives, to take notice of some truly unacceptable violence, and refuse to say it is ok. Once we begin to notice and then to refuse to go along with any violent habit, we see the connections to other such strategies, other instances where yet once more we tolerate the intolerable, turn away and simply refuse to notice that things are not ok. Refusing not to notice takes enormous effort, since our lives push us toward neglect; we are too busy, hidden violence is too much a part of the ordinary way of our lives, it is too hard to stop and insist on doing things differently. So it makes sense that we learn to neglect the victims of violence, human but also animal, and get on with our lives. All the greater then must be our admiration for those who refuse to agree, to accept the bargain by which being-content and going-along pays off. I admire greatly those who have stood for decades against abortion, euthanasia, and spousal abuse, against racism and against our government’s systemic involvement in violence in Central America and elsewhere, and nowadays, against our seemingly unending war in Iraq and our dubious leadership in the sales of armaments worldwide; add to that list, I suggest, those who are steadfastly against the slaughter of animals, who refuse to see it as a human right to kill and eat animals, when most of us at least could live perfectly healthy lives without ever eating meat. Not that any of these issues is to be resolved simply or without exceptions. But the exceptions that entail the violation of life need to remain exceptions, and it is to resisters who persist in saying no to violence that our gratitude and admiration must be offered. If we think of their enduring witness, perhaps we will find the courage to stop tolerating the intolerable, even if taking notice demands of us that we change our lives. And if it can begin as simply as by taking notice of the very odd news that there is animal abuse in the slaughterhouse -- that’s a good way to begin. Or begin somewhere else; the main thing is to begin. Isn’t learning to pay attention and to reject the unacceptable part of what our Lenten discipline is about?
Mistreating Animals - at a Slaughterhouse?